As the nights start to draw in, are the gardening times a changing?
Readers will detect a steady theme in this blog’s content, of gardening to work with insect diversity, indeed to positively encourage it. So as a loose link with last week’s piece I was pleased to read last week firstly that Anita Roddick’s daughter (who has created her own retail chain by founding a chain of upmarket shops selling erotica), has also become involved with a project called God Save the Queen Bee (with many other worthy backers) which I understand has the aim of creating a much bigger acreage of wild flowers across the UK as one of a number of strategies to aid the survival of honey bees. Great idea.
Secondly to read that Sarah Raven is the patron of the excellent ‘wildlife gardening forum’ which I’ve mentioned before and that over the last year she has become more convinced of the key role that gardeners can play in planting the right mix of flowers to encourage native insects. Like most trends, these will take a while to gather pace.
I was also intrigued to read of an idea to create a ‘Chelsea Fringe’ for gardening related events coinciding, but away from, The Chelsea Flower Show. Unfortunately for now, there’s only a shell website, but I shall definitely be checking this to see how it progresses. Sounds a great idea to take the Chelsea brand and involve a lot more folk who can’t make, or don’t want to physically attend, the main event, and also to widen the gardening brief.
Finally, following the word theme, it could only be in the excellent Resurgence magazine that a whole glossy colour page would be devoted to a simple typed quote from Camille Pissaro that I hadn’t come across before, but which I empathise with – “Blessed are those who see beauty in modest places, where others see nothing.” How often this seems to apply when wandering round the garden, particularly at the smaller scale end of the natural world, or as in the attached image, of light catching the diverse range of grass seed heads in our top field. No doubt not as productive as perennial rye grass and timothy, but certainly much more beautiful.
Or in the auditory sphere braving the midges to stand still at 10.15 pm in the fading light to video (without the background noise of me swatting the tiny beasties), as a lone but virtuoso blackbird, perhaps the same one as a few weeks ago but with new variations and on a different perch, serenades the valley’s acoustic purity. On this Glastonbury Festival weekend would I swap this experience for that of a cheek by jowl packed out concert? Not likely!
I’ve already posted a picture of me sowing Narcissus ‘Topolino’ seeds into a steep bank, and I thought I should say a bit more about this area in the garden, since it’s one of the current challenging areas that needs much more effort to get right. When the property was bought in its derelict state in 1993, the back of the house was literally hidden by the mountainside to a depth of about 7 feet. As a consequence, when it rained heavily a stream of water flowed down and into the house.
So one of the first tasks was to employ Ron, with his JCB, to dig this out. The shale removed formed the sub layer for the front of house terrace garden, and also the main planting terrain for our shrubbery and butterfly garden. But it left a scarred bank of loose steep shale behind the house. This was a low priority, until we realised that every year winter frosts loosened the surface and created a slippage of debris to the base of the slope. So after a few years we planted some Cotoneaster dammeri cuttings on it by picking out a shallow hole, adding a smidgen of compost and letting them get on with it.
A few years later we added the creeping late flowering Geranium procurrens, and later still some ‘Fox and Cubs‘ the orange flowered hawkbit using seed collected from a nearby dry grassy bank on a roadside verge. Other attempts to add native flowers by scattering seed proved unsuccessful, in part I think because the seed just washed down the very steep slope (even after trying some mixed with wallpaper paste), but also in part because of a lack of humus or topsoil on the shaley surface. I read recently that it takes a century to form a single centimetre of topsoil. What we have found is that the above 3 plants do root into the shale, and as they gradually spread across the surface, leaves and detritus get lodged amongst the stems, and gradually fertility improves.
Inevitably, at this point the first things to seize the moment are the problem weeds – ash, sycamore, bramble, etc. But a determined effort against these by pulling out after rain has loosened the roots, is gradually winning. Knapweed is now getting going having scattered a few seeds and will flower in another month or so, and Foxgloves, together with Germander Speedwell, Birdsfoot Trefoil, and Cat’s Ear are also surviving here.
The potential for a carpet of native flowers in the late spring and summer is within reach, as just(!) 17 years after the virgin bank was created, the final section of slipping shale gets colonised by the Cotoneaster and ‘Fox and Cubs’.
Of course this could have been speeded up by more spot planting of the original plants, but as I’ve said, this was low priority. This year I’ve also planted in a few more Sweet Rocket plants, and might work more saved seed from this plant into the bank when available. I think that the raking out hammer is a good tool for this purpose, rather than simply chancing scattering again. Interestingly another section of the bank which faces in a more North Easterly direction is predominantly covered with Alchemilla mollis, which has spilled down from the area above (in the absence of any Cotoneaster) and which right now fills the air with a real honey like perfume.
But I’ve noticed that it’s only small flies which seem interested in all these sweet-smelling, but tiny Alchemilla flowers. No bees or bumblebees at all in spite of the honey like aroma of its nectar. Long term, dealing with the tree seedlings and the thug like weeds mentioned above will become an issue as joints become less tolerant of working on a 45 – 50 degree slope. But at least the lack of topsoil means that nothing really races away here.
In spite of the inevitable sorry state of some blooms after daily rain for most of the last 3 weeks, right now is the time of the year for many of the slightly limited range of tough roses which we grow, to begin flowering. We don’t give them any special treatment and although we do get some blackspot and rose slugworm damage we ignore this. By now most of the modern roses which we bought as disease resistant and vigorous, and which were not, and succumbed to disease, have been replaced with toughies that look after themselves. Again I read this week of Nyman’s garden using a four pronged weekly spraying regime with milk, garlic, seaweed solution and compost tea, which keeps their roses healthy, but it’s as much as I can manage to spray the apples once a fortnight with seaweed solution, and occasionally the rhododendrons, so the roses have to survive on their own without cosseting. Anyway, the ones pictured below all do well, and just now fill this part of the garden with glorious scent.
Planting climbing roses through trees was inspired by a visit on June 11th many years ago to Sheldon Manor in Wiltshire, where the fruit trees in an old orchard were festooned with informal climbing, or rambling roses. An inspirational vision, and our first rose planted in this way, Paul’s Himalayan Musk is right now at its peak, a good fortnight earlier than usual. For some reason the other day I was standing looking at it and taking in the perfumed air when I counted the buds – about 10 per spray, and about 5 or 6 sprays per side shoot. Then maybe 20 side shoots per arching stem from the top of the mature hawthorn tree which it is growing up through. And how many arching stems? Well 30 at least. So over the 3 to 4 weeks that it flowers perhaps 30,000 plus scented pale pink flowers. What a wonderful return from the cost of a single plant bought perhaps 15 years ago!
A 10.15 pm walk round the garden last week with air rifle handy allowed me to shoot a rabbit which has been visiting over the last couple of months, and starting to do some damage. Surrounded as we are by pasture, and with no deterring pets, it’s surprising that we haven’t had problems before last year, when for the first time in a decade they began to appear. One thing I can say is that once casseroled, it had a fantastic rich herby flavour, (a bit like the taste difference you can detect with salt marsh versus intensively reared lamb), which I’m sure is a result of the varied flora in our adjacent fields. Nearly 97% of Britain’s flower rich meadows have been destroyed since 1945, so it’s hugely satisfying to see how the benign but intentional neglect of ours (other than light grazing) will produce a natural reverse entropy with huge variety returning surprisingly quickly. Where do the seeds come from? Are they lurking below soil in the seedbank, from decades earlier, waiting for mole or worm activity to bring them to the surface to germinate? Or are they brought in by birds in their droppings? Whatever, try this approach in a garden proper over 17 years, and the result would be a weed infested jungle, but evening walks through the fields are now hugely satisfying.
However a couple of nights ago I was lucky not to fall into what I took to be an old rabbit or rodent hole in the middle of one field out of which a constant stream of large wasps were flying. The light was failing, and they were too intent on their task to bother with me, but I had the definite impression that they were all carrying something out from the tunnel. I took a few photos with flash and by chance one is sufficiently in focus to make out what looks like a sizeable chunk of soil in its jaws. I guess that the underground nest is undergoing considerable expansion just now, and not that we have a super breed of Welsh mining wasps that had in fact created the whole 4 inch diameter tunnel on their own!
Finally I dug up our first crop of second early potatoes from a Big Bag today. A bit early, but the foliage was starting to look a little blight affected after all the recent wet weather, and I wanted to get something else sown in its place. A mix of saved tubers from last year of ‘Nadine’ and Kestrel’, and absolutely perfect – no hint of scab, eelworm or blight, and very easy to dig out from the bag. I’m a Big Bag Convert!
I’m having to write this off line on another computer and copy it onto the blog, since we’ve nearly exhausted our monthly data allowance of 450MB upload for last month (3 days early, after I uploaded many more images onto my ‘Waltz of Attraction ‘ pages). One of the major problems with budget satellite only broadband. So I hope that the text ends up looking of the usual classy WordPress appearance. Phew it does. And now F suggests that perhaps this is how I should do my posts in future to avoid tensions over who can use the internet, and when!
Julian, I caught the tag end of a tv program on the British wild Rhododendron. It seems it lives in association with a fungus and between they produce something (frustratingly it was the tag end of the program!) which contributes to ‘Sudden Oak Death’. Where the said rhododendron has taken hold and is spreading, there are considerable efforts being made to eradicate it. I think the program was featuring a plantation up on the Scottish Borders. Your mention of your Rhody reminded me that I had wanted to tell you….
Thanks for that . Certainly there are locations in S.Wales where the dreaded SOD has already affected Rhodos. and Larch plantations.I guess being of fungal origin the disease prefers our neck of the woods with its , (now very!), damp conditions. I reckon that like most diseases they’ll be cultivar variations in susceptibilty, but that also it’ll affect stressed plants worse. So for this reason I’ve started the occasional spraying with seaweed solution in case there are any minor trace element deficiencies,as well as occasional woodash round the roots( this could be an issue because of its alkalinity, but round here with acid soil and rain, seems to be OK. But I’ve also taken to clearing up/off the previous year’s leaves as they yellow and fall beneath the bush in late spring/summer. At least I’m doing it for now!!. And with glossy leaved Viburnums as well. Get the feeling that the plants look healthier as a result.